Modern day first basemen are big fellows who swat the ball out of sight. In vogue are thunderous hitters like Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, but such wasn’t always the case. Back when the ball was dead and gloves were crude, the most agile man was needed at the initial sack: the man nimble afoot who could snare errants throws with his over-sized driver’s glove. The man who best represented the agile first baseman was the Braves’ (or Beaneaters as they were called back then) Fred Tenney.
Fred wasn’t built like a slugging first baseman. In fact, were he playing today, he’d fit in better with Juan Pierre than Paul Konerko. But Tenney was a master with the leather and no slouch with the stick either. Fred is purported to have invented the 3-6-3 double play – the trickiest maneuver in the book for first basemen.
Fred began his career with the Boston Beaneaters in 1894 – hitting a robust .394 in limited action. The Braves already had a star at first base in Tommy Tucker so Fred had to try his hand in the outfield in the early years of his career. By 1897, Beaneaters skipper Frank Selee had seen enough in Fred to name him his starting first baseman – pushing incumbent Tucker to the bench. Boston went from fourth place in 1896 to winning the pennant with Fred at first everyday. Tenney was a terrific table-setter, scoring 125 runs in just 132 games.
The Beaneaters won back-to-back titles with another pennant in 1898. Fred teamed with Hall of Famers Jimmy Collins and Hugh Duffy to give Boston some solid punch-n’-run in the lineup. In 1899, Fred eclipsed the 100 hit plateau and scored 100 or more runs for the third straight season. He also hit .347 for the season: his highest career mark as a regular. The Beaneaters fell in the standings in 1900 but Fred was still a productive man at the plate and a wizard on the field.
In 1902, with the American League now firmly in place, Fred showed loyalty to the Beaneaters by staying with the National League entry when many NL players jumped ship and joined the new circuit. Boston enjoyed Fred’s loyalty as the slender first baseman scored more runs than any initial sacker that year. Showcasing his supreme on-base skills, Fred also led all first basemen in walks: finishing third in the NL. On-base percentages aren’t looked at as often as they should be. Speedy leadoff men of the 1980s – think Willie McGee and Willie Wilson – never once posted an on-base percentage of .400. Fred eclipsed the .400 mark on five separate occasions.
Although he wasn’t a big man, Fred tied for the lead among first basemen in homeruns during the 1903 campaign. In 1904, he walked more than any first baseman in baseball. The Beaneaters rewarded Fred for his loyal service by naming him player/manager in 1905. The duel role took its toll on Fred but he still had enough in the tank to lead NL first basemen in hits in 1906. His batting averages steadily declined every year after becoming player/manager but his peripheral stats were still fine. Fred led NL first basemen in runs scored in 1907 while finishing second in the NL with 82 free passes.
Fred had one final year in the sun when he was traded by Boston to John McGraw’s Giants. In his first year under McGraw, Fred paced the NL with 101 runs scored – he and Honus Wagner were the only two NL players to score 100 runs in 1908 – and Fred also finished second in the league in walks.
Fred Tenney’s career stats: G 1,980/R 1,271/H 2,239/2B 264/3B 80/RBI 688/BB 874/SB 285/BA .295/SA .360